The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research (MJFF) announces 46 new grant awards totaling more than $11 million. The selected projects reflect our research strategy to define, measure and treat Parkinson’s disease. We also awarded grants to help develop the research tools the field needs to advance.
All of our funding decisions serve our mission to find a cure for Parkinson’s and improved treatments for those living with the disease today. Each research step — from laboratory studies to understand the disease through clinical trials of potential drugs to stop it — is designed to support those goals. Highlights of the studies that received our latest grants follow. For more information on recent MJFF-supported projects, visit our Funded Studies page.
We seek to understand the causes of Parkinson’s, its progression and the factors that account for the variability of the disease. We recently issued seven new grants in this area at a total of $2,287,595. Highlights follow:
- Martin Hallbeck, MD, PhD, at Linköping University in Sweden is studying proteins called connexins, which promote the transfer of molecules between cells. In Parkinson’s, they may transfer toxic alpha-synuclein protein, which could lead to the spread of the disease in the brain.
- Ira Shoulson, MD, at Florida-based Grey Matter Technologies, is analyzing patient-reported data submitted through the MJFF online study Fox Insight on bothersome symptoms and their functional impacts. These insights can help direct patient care and test the effectiveness of new treatments in easing these issues.
MJFF funds the discovery of methods to diagnose Parkinson’s, measure its progression and assess the effectiveness of treatments for it. We recently supported 21 new projects in this area with a total of $3,749,979. Descriptions of several of the grants follow:
- Marios Politis, MD, MSc, PhD, FRCP, FEAN, at King’s College London is testing a tracer to image cells called astrocytes, which play a role in brain inflammation. Imaging astrocytes could help diagnose the disease early on, track progression and test treatments targeting brain inflammation.
- Another valuable imaging tool would be an optimized tracer to visualize synapses, structures that allow nerve cells to communicate. Neil Vasdev, PhD, at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto is choosing a top tracer candidate to move into human trials.
These awards directly fund the development of treatments to slow or stop Parkinson’s and alleviate its symptoms. We recently selected six projects for grants in this area at a total of $4,126,317. These include:
- California-based Alkahest, Inc., under Jonas Hannestad, MD, PhD, is testing the inflammation drug AKST4290 in a Phase II clinical trial of 120 people with Parkinson’s disease.
- James B. Koprich, MA, PhD, at Toronto-based Atuka, Inc. is testing to what degree drugs must inhibit the LRRK2 protein to impact disease progression. LRRK2 inhibitors are already in clinical trials, but determining the optimum dose to effectively treat Parkinson's without side effects is important.
- D. Kacy Cullen, PhD, at the University of Pennsylvania is improving his tissue engineering strategy to replace the nigrostriatal pathway. This pathway of nerve cells plays a role in movement and does not operate well in Parkinson’s. This reconstruction could help ease movement issues with the disease.
- Vivreon Biosciences in San Diego, under Milton Greenberg, PhD, is studying a potential new therapeutic target. CRAC calcium channels may play a role in initiating brain inflammation that is toxic to cells. The company is investigating these channels and testing drugs that may act on them to alter the disease course.
We ensure the field has the research tools it needs to advance, such as assays, cells lines, and DNA plasmids. We recently supported 12 new projects in this area with a total of $1,038,442. Highlights follow:
- The Foundation’s tool team supported work to generate and distribute new laboratory tools such as antibodies and viral vectors around target proteins LRRK2 and ubiquitin. These additions further grow our robust Tools Catalog.
- Grants also went to support our online study matching tool Fox Trial Finder and the storage of biosamples from our LRRK2 Cohort Consortium study. These resources are building the infrastructure to enable studies by connecting trials with volunteers and providing accessible specimens, respectively.